Vote Revolt & A Game of Chaos by Jessica Bailey and Terri Donovan at Theatre N16

 

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On Thursday 26th June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union and even though a year has passed, the subject is still on everyone’s minds as we wait to see the effects of Article 50 being triggered. This divisive topic has clearly been on the minds of the writers of Vote Revolt and A Game of Chaos as the two pieces aim to question our reasons for voting and the motivation behind our choices.

Split into two, the night begins with Vote Revolt, an extract from a longer piece by Jessica Bailey. The play follows a group of teenagers as they await their offers from university. Grouped together in politics, one boy breaks away, choosing to stay on the side of “remain”, making him the black sheep of the group. Being an extract from a longer piece, the play is confusing and somewhat underwhelming, with the cliff-hanger not being much of a cliff-hanger at all. The characters are unclear and the storyline seemed shallow, with very little depth or philosophy for the audience to get their teeth into. This felt lazy, especially given their topic of choice and the questions and debates around it. We must however, remember that this is just a twenty-minute snippet and for this reason I can only assume (and hope) that there is much more excitement and plotline to come.

After a rather quick end to Vote Revolt and a poor transition, came A Game of Chaos by Terri Donovan; a wannabe Big Brother-esque, improvised game that sees the same actors trapped in a room that can only be left if one sticks to the rules of the game and completes the given quests. The rules consist of things such as listening only to Queen songs, a minute of silence, a discussion on something one is passionate about and most importantly, an objective that is given to them by a member of the audience. The irony of this was that the actors failed to stick to the rules of the game or complete their quests. They seemed to become so submerged in their improvisation that they forgot that they had a direction and an outcome in which the show needed to go in. It became ever-so-slightly embarrassing when the cast had to be reminded through a recorded tannoy announcement of their objectives in order to get them back on track. Even this, however, failed to work, leaving no other choice for the performance to finish in a very random, baffling and inexplicable way. In fact, even the actors didn’t seem to know if they had finished or not, making it very awkward for the audience to watch.

A game of chaos it certainly is and if what the company are trying to do is get us thinking about voting or the caging of Brexit, then unfortunately it failed to work this evening. Improvisation is a skill that should be highly commended and when done well is excellent to watch but unfortunately this just didn’t work and felt more like a group of actors enjoying a bit of make-it-up-as-you-go-along-acting.

The topic of both plays is important and highly relevant to today and it is great that the company are trying to tackle this subject and bring it to the stage but more thought and consideration needs to be injected. From the gaps in the script to the shoddy making of props, the production is messy and like the venue, needs a new lick of paint and a bit of TLC. The company clearly feel passionate about it, as they should but in truth, the whole thing kind of felt a bit like a private joke between friends and completely alien to the outsiders.

WIGS 1/5

By Grace Ward

Egyptian Extravaganza at the Colab Factory

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Egyptian Extravaganza plays at the warehouse space the Colab Factory in SE1 this week. It is an immersive production which attempts to question cultural appropriation, by taking 1920’s Egypt as a setting and by introducing us to Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun him/herself (played by Holli Dillon) is the best thing about this. She is witty and fun to watch and saves the ‘extravaganza’ from being merely weird. However the rest of the show is hard to follow and messy despite brave turns by some of the other actors. The immersive element of it starts out ok, as we descend into the rather dank basement which has been enlivened by incense, and come across various characters in 1920’s gear. A procession leads in, with ‘King Tut’ at the back of it, speaking solemnly in what we believe to be Egyptian incantations. As she sits in her throne, and we get to admire her stunning golden attire (the legwear alone is amazing) she starts speaking in a modern American slang and reveals to us that the objective of this gathering (which we are a part of) is to have a big party.

I can’t tell you much about the plot, as there isn’t really one to speak of. Instead of a narrative, we are introduced to a few scenes, and invited to follow the cast around into the corners of the basement as they change costumes and characters a few times. King Tut mostly sits amongst us, calling out witticisms about what is going on, winning over the audience. The overriding theme is that none of us really know what happened back in Ancient Egypt, nor in the 20’s when the ancient Pharaoh’s tomb was discovered practically intact by English archaeologist Howard Carter. Carter is played by actor Leah Kirby, who throws herself into the mayhem of the part with much silliness and humour and a few stick-on or maybe drawn-on moustaches.

After about 40 minutes Holli Dillon takes off her headdress and suddenly and disarmingly explains that she is an actor. We are pretty much taken aback by this (despite her only pointing out the obvious) as she proceeds to question the audience about our views on cultural appropriation. It is an interesting step, to break the fourth wall in this way, and I applaud the actors for their bravery here as it feels pretty uncomfortable and silent at first, but some members of the audience get into the spirit of it and join in the conversation. However it made me personally want to run away in pure British embarrassment.

WIGS 1/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

The Pulverised by Alexandra Badea at the Arcola

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The four characters in The Pulverised, by Romanian-French writer Alexandra Badea, which opened last week at the Arcola Theatre, are all cogs in one multinational corporate chain. They do not know each other or interact with each other and they are based in four corners of the world. They don’t have names but descriptions (for instance Call Centre Team Leader, Dakar or Research and Development Engineer, Bucharest) and as the audience files in, they are all lying sprawled on the set, partially submerged in mounds of a soft gravel, surrounded in monitors and computer desks which are half buried around them and suspended from the ceiling.

The first scene is arresting as they twitch into life, get up off the floor and perform a robotic dance to some electronic sounds, a video projection on the wall behind them (sound and AV design by Ashley Ogden). Then it is straight into the first monologue, delivered by Richard Corgan (playing Quality Assurance of Subcontractors Manager), trying to locate where he is in the world in yet another anonymous hotel room. His sad existence abroad, when not working, is spent watching prostitutes on the web cam whilst simultaneously skyping his wife and uninterested son. He says more than once that he keeps on speaking to avoid the silences.

Other monologues follow suite, mostly presented solo, but sometimes interacting with other cast members who are slightly awkwardly lying on the ground when it is not their scene. This restricts the action and feels quite uncomfortable (it must be even more so for the actors). Between scenes, like automatons, they jerk and twitch until the next person gets into position again.

Each of the characters works in a different sector in this corporate conglomerate. At the bottom end of the scale is the Factory Worker in Shanghai (Rebecca Boey) whose every move is caught on security cameras, and who is barely allowed a toilet break. She functions by dreaming about running, singing, dancing and dreaming in her two seconds’ rest period – but there is no escape. Kate Miles plays the Research and Development Engineer who relaxes by re-watching a favourite YouTube clip of the sea, and there is a comic moment when she launches all of her (many) computer programmes like a conductor conducting Mozart. The Call Centre Team Leader (Solomon Israel) is based in Senegal and torn between listening to Jesus on his headphones and lasciviously admiring the rear end of a Senegalese employee who then angers him by refusing to take on a French name. His characterisation is ultimately the most effective as you feel a strong and poignant dilemma in his job which causes some real dramatic tension. As a performer Israel really stands out here.

Overall there are good performances but The Pulverised has its flaws. It loses pace and could have been a good thirty minutes shorter. The use of the video design footage does not remain consistent, neither does the music, and there is little need for the characters to physically remove pieces out of the back wall. It is already clear that they are each perilously close to cracking.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Paper Hearts by Liam O’Rafferty Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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I’ll be honest, I’m not usually one for musicals and generally stay clear of the West End as I find it all a bit too much. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the talent of the performers, I just prefer theatre with a meaty, philosophical plot at its heart and generally I find that musicals can’t offer me that. But I arrived with an open mind and was excited about seeing a new British musical that had had rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival last year and was aiming for the top.

Located in the slick and stylish Highgate in the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre Pub, Paper Hearts is a two-act musical set in a bookshop – how very Notting Hill I hear you say. The story follows Atticus Smith, an aspiring writer and book shop assistant, who spends his time penning new stories. The plot shifts between his reality and 1940s Russia, the setting of his book Angel Star. Things are not going so well for Atticus and his fiery girlfriend Alex and things get even worse when he finds out his beloved bookshop is about to bought out by a big online corporate company, leaving him out of the job. But things hot up when Lilly Sprocket, the new manager, arrives, putting Atticus in some very difficult situations. The future of the bookshop rests in his hands and it’s up to him to save it and decide where his heart lies.

Okay, so the plot isn’t exactly original. It’s certainly not terrible but it isn’t brilliant and if you’re looking for a life changing philosophical experience and the opportunity to answer some of life’s greatest questions, then it’s probably not quite the right show for you. The greatest thing about this show is, of course, the music. Described as being ‘a contemporary, pop-folk score’, the songs are catchy, fun and energetic, played by an ensemble of very talented musicians. On a number of the songs, I found myself tapping my foot along and bobbing my head. I particularly enjoyed It’s You, Not Me which I was very pleased made a return in act two. My own complaint here would be that the choreography seems a bit basic and somewhat underwhelming, especially in such a small space where everything is on show to us.

The young cast, comprising of five main characters and five ensemble/musicians, is very strong. Sinead Wall, playing Yanna and Alex, is brilliant and has a truly beautiful voice. Her ability to switch character so quickly and so convincingly (It took me quite a while to work out that Wall was in fact playing both characters) is impressive. Gabriella Margulies as Lilly Sprocket is also exceptional and leading the troupe as Atticus Smith, Adam Small is excellently well cast.

The red and white themed stage, designed by Anna Driftmier, is filled with piles and piles of books, giving that privately-owned bookshop feel. Though the stage was quite large for quite a small venue, there is quite a lot on stage (not to mention the ten performers), making some of the bigger numbers feel ever so slightly cramped.

Overall, this is a fun show with some exceptional young talent. The music is bright, the songs are bouncy and the atmosphere is exciting. The plot is definitely not its strongest point but then again, it never is with musicals. If you’re looking for a good time, a bit of a laugh and some catchy show tunes, then I’d definitely recommend heading on down.

WIGS 4/5

By Grace Ward